The reply A C Grayling got when he wrote to Parliament (and how he reacted)

PUBLISHED: 17:20 23 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:09 30 November 2016

Houses of Parliament (David Dixon under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Houses of Parliament (David Dixon under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Archant

A C Grayling’s powerful 5 point comeback tackles the government’s Brexit plans

In September, Professor AC Grayling wrote to the Prime Minister, outlining the weaknesses of her Brexit policy; here is the reply he received from the Government, and his latest letter, further tackling ministers’ arguments.

____________________________

Dear Professor Grayling,

Thank you for your letter of 9 September to the Prime Minister regarding the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. I am responding on her behalf.

On 23 June, the country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do so. The Government’s position is clear that invoking Article 50 is a prerogative power and one that can be exercised by the Government. Parliament legislated for the Referendum, which it did by large majorities in both Houses, and with cross-party support.

Although the Act itself does not include provisions that make the result of the referendum legally binding, the Government made repeated and clear statements that the outcome of the referendum would be acted upon. Indeed, the manifesto on which the Conservative Party was elected in 2015 stated “we will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.” The arrangements for the referendum were also supported by Parliament.

I will respond to the specific points in your letter about the design of the referendum. The franchise used was based on the franchise used for parliamentary elections, made up of UK, Commonwealth and Irish citizens aged 18 and over and British citizens who have lived abroad for less than 15 years, as well as Members of the House of Lords and electors in Gibraltar.

As an issue of national significance, that was right, and it follows the precedent of the 2011 referendum on the voting system. Amendments proposing to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and to EU citizens were not approved by Parliament. As regards the issue of a turnout threshold or a ‘supermajority’ (requiring a specified proportion of voters, larger than a simple majority, to support a particular outcome for it to be enacted), no amendments for such requirements were debated during the passage of the Bill. There were no calls in Parliament for restrictions on betting on the result of the referendum.

Parliament will have an important role in making sure we find the best way forward. On 2 October, the Prime Minister announced that there will be a Great Repeal Bill, introduced in the 2017/18 Parliamentary Session, which will do two things. It will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and it will remove the primacy of EU law on the domestic statute book from exit day and turn it into domestic law. The Government welcomes the full scrutiny of both Houses on this legislation.

Ministers from the Department for Exiting the EU continue to engage with Parliament on a daily basis, appearing at Select Committees and responding to questions from Parliamentarians in the usual way.

I hope this response reassures you that the Government is committed to restoring the primacy and sovereignty of the UK Parliament as we leave the EU.

RT HON DAVID JONES MP

Minister of State For Exiting The European Union

__________________________

Related content:

Brexit means shambles: 15 things you definitely didn’t vote for

The hysteria around Brexit shows how utterly un-British it really is

“I’m not racist, but…” Things we learnt from Ukip donor Arron Banks’ diary

__________________________

Dear Mr Jones,

Thank you for your letter in reply to my letter to the Prime Minister regarding the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. I respond as follows.

1. You write: ‘On 23 June, the country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do so.’

You are wrong on both counts. Votes cast on the day, on a 72% turn-out, represent a Leave vote of 37% of the total electorate and 26% of the population of the UK. You cannot describe this as ‘the country’ nor claim that ‘the country’ voted to leave the EU. I remind you that current Trades Union legislation requires 40% of a total electorate (not merely votes cast) to trigger a strike. The legislation on general elections requires a 66% majority of all members of the House of Commons to trigger an election outside the fixed term of a Parliament. On what conceivable grounds can you describe 37% of the total electorate and 26% of the population as ‘the country’? Use of these phrases to describe the sentiment of the UK population on EU membership is, with respect, misleading, and would appear to be deliberately so. It suits ‘Brexiters’ to speak in this way.

Secondly, the Government does not have a duty to implement the result of the referendum of 23 June. Briefing Paper 07212, sent to all MPs and Lords on 3 June 2015, in advance of debate on the 2015 Referendum Bill states unequivocally that the referendum is non-binding, advisory and consultative only, and imposes no obligation on the Government to act on its outcome.

Likewise, the Referendum Act, which the Bill became, contains no clause obligating the Government to act on the outcome of the referendum.

2. You cite the manifesto promise of the Conservative Party in the General Election of 2015 that a referendum would be held on the question of EU membership and that ‘the outcome of the referendum would be acted upon.’ The Conservative Party and the Government it formed were also committed to continued membership of the EU as a matter of publicly avowed policy on which it was elected, and this was a position made clear to the electorate in the same election campaign. Which aspect of the apparently conflicting policy do you wish to emphasise?

To assist you, might I point out that the phrase ‘outcome of the referendum’ is ambiguous. Here is one clear reading: the outcome of the referendum told us that at least a quarter of the British population is ill-informed as to the true nature of the EU, and is anxious about the effects of immigration. One thing the Government could very well do to ‘act on the outcome’ is to provide more and better information on the great value of EU membership, and to point out, with the relevant empirical facts in hand, that almost all negative comment on immigration is false.

3. You defend the choice of franchise for the referendum, which I criticized on the grounds that it excluded 16-17 year olds, ex-pats who have lived abroad for longer than a certain period, and fellow-EU citizens who make their lives and careers and pay tax here (‘no taxation without representation’ used to be a principle, once) by saying that the franchise is the same as used for General Elections. The point is that this was not a General Election. This was a referendum. The difference is very great indeed. It is public knowledge that proposals to extend the franchise to 16-17 year olds were contested by those who knew that this would have a material effect in strengthening the Remain vote. In less polite quarters this is known as gerrymandering.

4. You comment on my saying that if a referendum were to be regarded as binding or mandating, it would require a supermajority of the kind you MPs yourselves require for triggering a general election, 66% or so. You avoid this point by merely saying, ‘no amendments for such requirements were debated during the passage of the Bill.’ No: for the good reason that everyone in the House had been advised that the referendum was ‘advisory’ and ‘consultative’ only, imposing no requirement on the Government to act on it.

5. Finally, in a passage which I take it you intend as a light-hearted jest, you write, ‘I hope this response reassures you that the Government is committed to restoring the primacy and sovereignty of the UK Parliament as we leave the EU.’ If however this is intended as a serious remark, I will restrain myself to the three following comments in conclusion.

First, earlier in your letter you say, ‘The Government’s position is clear that invoking Article 50 is a prerogative power…’ We have seen that the Chief Justice and his colleagues in the Divisional Court do not agree with the Government on this, and we await the Supreme Court’s view too. Should the justices of the Supreme Court concur, you have the delicate irony of a possibility: that of making a further appeal to the European Court of Justice. It will however be a matter of surprise if any panel of justices were to think that the UK Government has a prerogative power which would have enabled it to take the UK out of the EU even without a referendum, and whenever it wished; which is the clear – and absurd – implication of the Government’s position.

The sovereignty of Parliament is connoted in this. As the UK’s sovereign body, it has the discretion, the right and the power to choose not to take the ‘advice’ of the advisory referendum, as not being in the UK’s best interests.

Second, as to the larger sense of sovereignty you wish to imply, namely the sovereignty of the UK as a state: well! we are members of NATO, the WTO, the UN, we have obligations under international law, we have duties to allies; we have constraints as a result of treaties, trade deals, and internationally-binding contracts; and we exist in a tightly globalized world economy. In light of this the concept of the ‘sovereignty’ of any state is an empty piece of rhetoric. So talk of ‘sovereignty’ in this connection it is the kind of waffling cant used by politicians in elections and referendums which signifies little.

Third and finally, the Government’s use of the referendum outcome as an excuse to take the UK out of the EU will damage the economy – it already has; it will diminish and marginalise the UK; deprive its citizens of the rights they have as EU citizens; damage UK science and education; limit the future prospects of our young people; and it will be many, many years, if ever, that the UK’s reputation will recover from the inanity of this endeavour.

Why? Because as one of the largest economies of the EU it had a leading role in one of the world’s three great blocs of influence. If the Government acts on the ill-informed will of a quarter of the population, it will have reduced a once-great and influential nation to a minor offshore player.

I look forward to your detailed comments on each of these points, which I shall greatly appreciate receiving.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Grayling

Like this? Tweet us @theneweuropean

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Britain’s bungled Brexit negotiations have sparked a messy divorce from the European Union – and it is about to get even nastier.

Friday, November 17, 2017

PAUL CONNEW on the ongoing investigations into the Trump administration's Kremlin links

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Georgia spawned Stalin, the monster who forever poisoned the legacy of the Russian Revolution. But it also produced a tantalising alternative vision of what that revolution could have led to. JUSTIN REYNOLDS explores the forgotten history of the fleeting Democratic Republic of Georgia, which offered a flicker of hope before it was extinguished

Friday, November 17, 2017

Comedian, musician and writer MITCH BENN on a year in which politics is quite literally crazy

Friday, November 17, 2017

Britain’s tech sector is flying. But, asks ANGELA JAMESON, will new Government cash be enough to stop Brexit bursting the bubble?

Friday, November 17, 2017

This week’s New European Podcast has dropped - and we are focusing on Brexit’s dreamiest couple.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What makes some men act inappropriately? Psychiatry professor PHILIP GRAHAM explores the science behind harassment

Thursday, November 16, 2017

STEVE ANGLESEY counts down the worst Brexiteers of the week

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

In his most celebrated poems, Rupert Brooke gave a classic evocation of England. But, argues CHARLIE CONNELLY, his work has a very European context

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT with the week's big stories

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tim Martin, boss of the Wetherspoon pub chain, is pestering drinkers with his pro-Brexit beer mats. ANTHONY CLAVANE wonders whether his customers might find it too much to swallow

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The internet does not distinguish between good and bad. If we want to survive it, we might have to, says NATHANIEL TAPLEY

Monday, November 13, 2017

What do the Hard Brexiteers think of ‘taking back control’ only to have the US wade into the UK’s trading standards? ANGELA JAMESON investigates whether chlorinated chicken is back on the menu

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Almost half of NHS doctors from Europe are considering quitting the UK because of Brexit, according to a new survey.

Monday, November 13, 2017

MPs will get the chance to vote down Brexit in parliament – but we will leave the EU whatever the result, David Davis has said.

Monday, November 13, 2017

PAUL CONNEW on how, despite everything, the President retains his support base

Monday, November 13, 2017

As the Brexit Bill continues its chaotic progress through the Commons, pro-European peer HUGH DYKES warns that the Lords are ready to take up the fight when it reaches them

Friday, November 10, 2017

Research by the British Election Study suggests the ethnic minority vote was crucial in the EU referendum.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The playwright, author and critic on the fight against change

Friday, November 10, 2017

Editor-at-large ALASTAIR CAMPBELL on why leaving the EU is so damaging to the health service

Friday, November 10, 2017

Being forced to wear one takes all meaning away from this symbol, says comedian, musician and writer MITCH BENN

Monday, November 13, 2017

For a true idea of the untold tragedy of gun crime in the US, look beyond the mass shootings to the ‘mundane’ murders. ANDREW PURCELL reports

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Britain’s unofficial poet laureate Tony Harrison tells ANTHONY CLAVANE about how the divisions exposed by his landmark poem, V, are as raw now as ever

Friday, November 10, 2017

Article 50, which triggers Britain's exit from the EU, can be reversed, according to the man who wrote it.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT rounds up the losers and losers (because there are no winners) of another crazy seven days on Planet Brexit

Thursday, November 9, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT with the week's big stories

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

CHRIS SUTCLIFFE on media

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A new international study shows how narcissism and an unrealistic belief in national greatness led to the successes of Donald Trump and Brexit. SCOTT OLIVER reports

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The government has announced there will be a delay of "no more than three weeks" in publishing its secret papers on the economic impact of Brexit.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

PETER TRUDGILL on the Nordic roots of a French wine

Monday, November 6, 2017

Is the House of cards about to fall? PAUL CONNEW examines a blockbuster week in the White House as the Russian Connection begins to really bite

Monday, November 6, 2017

Turkey has just got its 93rd political party. But, says SUNA ERDEM, the Good Party and its leader Meral Aksener could bring the troubled country the rejuvenation it desperately needs

Friday, November 3, 2017

Andy Wigmore's attempt at 'sarcasm' on Vote Leave's use of bots was a characteristic piece of mischief from this sharpshooting Brexiteer, say RACHEL DAVIS and RICHARD PORRITT

Friday, November 3, 2017

President Xi Jinping’s position is strengthened and his vision for China is clear. But, says CHARLES BURTON, it means he will have to take the blame if things go wrong

Friday, November 3, 2017

With Donald Trump doing his best to up the ante in his stand-off with Kim Jong-Un, the optimistic argument goes that China will eventually step in to restrain its North Korean neighbour. But, KATHARINE MOON argues, this is wishful thinking. Pyongyang won’t kowtow to Beijing

Friday, November 3, 2017

Throughout his career, the designer acted as a curator of his own work. As our culture correspondent VIV GROSKOP reports, we now have two museums fit to showcase that talent

Friday, November 3, 2017

EMMA JONES recalls her time working in the magazine industry with its very warped view of women

Friday, November 3, 2017

Britain has never produced another hero like Dan Dare. In a landmark year for the lantern-jawed pilot, CHARLIE CONNELLY pays tribute to a figure who has shaped our art, literature, science, architecture and even musical theatre

Friday, November 3, 2017

RICHARD MILLS on the sometimes surreal, sometimes tragic, story of Vladimir Dedijer, a Yugoslav partisan fighter, member of Tito’s inner circle and a big Huddersfield Town fan

Monday, November 6, 2017

Chris Heaton-Harris’ clumsy if sinister attempt to find out about the teaching of Brexit at universities was almost universally condemned. Almost. As LIZ GERARD reports, for some of Fleet Street it was a perfect opportunity to send a message – dissent will not be tolerated

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter